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Photos: Russian forces were driven out of this village outside Kharkiv, Ukraine

Capt. Daniil, a public affairs officer in the Ukrainian military, walks through a field in Mala Rohan, on the outskirts of Ukraine's northeastern city of Kharkiv. He is recording the aftermath of fighting between occupying Russian soldiers and Ukrainian forces.
Nickolai Hammar
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NPR
Capt. Daniil, a public affairs officer in the Ukrainian military, walks through a field in Mala Rohan, on the outskirts of Ukraine's northeastern city of Kharkiv. He is recording the aftermath of fighting between occupying Russian soldiers and Ukrainian forces.

The Ukrainian military escort says Russians were pushed out of the village of Mala Rohan at the end of last month.

But then, Tatiana, the military public affairs officer, who only uses her first name because of Ukrainian military policy, points to the middle of a field, to the carcasses of a tank and a helicopter. Both are tagged with the letter "Z," which the Russians have used to represent their military offensive in Ukraine.

The vehicle and aircraft, she says, were shot down just a few days ago. In the distance, the sound of artillery echoes through the farm land. A plume of smoke rises. The battle for this town, just east of Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, and under an hour's drive from the Russian border, was intense.

A downed Russian Ka-52 "Alligator" helicopter in Mala Rohan. The aircraft was shot down by Ukrainian forces as they worked to push out the Russian military.
Nickolai Hammar / NPR
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NPR
A downed Russian Ka-52 "Alligator" helicopter in Mala Rohan. The aircraft was shot down by Ukrainian forces as they worked to push out the Russian military.

Tatiana won't reveal exact numbers, but she says "many" civilians and Ukrainian soldiers died. Some of the dead Russian fighters, she says, were buried in a mass grave on the side of a hill.

The scenes in Mala Rohan are emblematic of the kind of fighting that has raged in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February. According to residents and soldiers interviewed by NPR, the Russian and Ukrainian militaries are engaging in few direct firefights. Instead, they say, Russians are lobbing shells, mortars and unguided missiles in the general direction of Ukrainian positions.

Second Lt. Dmitrii says this war has become a battle of artillery.

A destroyed Russian military tank sits in Mala Rohan, a village outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine, that was previously occupied by Russian soldiers.
Nickolai Hammar / NPR
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NPR
A destroyed Russian military tank sits in Mala Rohan, a village outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine, that was previously occupied by Russian soldiers.

"The Russians are not very good at fighting," he says. "They are good at shelling and sending rockets, but when they are close, they have a lot of casualties."

The fighting has left the village destroyed. Most of its people have fled. But 67-year-old Natalia Blizniuk is sitting on a wall near the main road. Her house is in tatters — the roof is blown; the windows are broken; she has no heating, no water — but she says she has nowhere to go. She says she can't make sense of this war.

"I don't understand who is right and whose fault it is," she says. "We need peace. That's the only thing we need."

A second lieutenant in the Ukrainian military, who would only give his first name, Dimitriy, is part of the force that helped liberate the village Mala Rohan.
Nickolai Hammar / NPR
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NPR
A second lieutenant in the Ukrainian military, who would only give his first name, Dimitriy, is part of the force that helped liberate the village Mala Rohan.

On the other side of the village, Ukrainian soldiers walk into a bombed out warehouse. Russian soldiers had turned it into temporary barracks. A Ukrainian rocket smashed through the walls and into the basement, leaving everything coated in a black soot.

Capt. Daniil looked through the spoils. The Ukrainian military moved in fast and the Russians fled in hurry, leaving behind medicine, food and rubber boots. Daniil stops in front of a table full of unused bullets. He uses the flashlight on his cellphone to inspect each one.

"The irony of fate," he says, as he methodically picks up the bullets and puts them into his bag. "Now," he says, "these bullets will kill the people who brought them here."

Food supplies left in a damaged building by occupying Russian soldiers in Mala Rohan.
Nickolai Hammar / NPR
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NPR
Food supplies left in a damaged building by occupying Russian soldiers in Mala Rohan.
Capt. Daniil, public affairs officer with the Ukrainian military, explores the remains of a building in Mala Rohan that Russian soldiers used as a temporary base while occupying the area. Ukrainian forces drove them out.
Nickolai Hammar / NPR
/
NPR
Capt. Daniil, public affairs officer with the Ukrainian military, explores the remains of a building in Mala Rohan that Russian soldiers used as a temporary base while occupying the area. Ukrainian forces drove them out.
Left: Capt. Daniil explores the remains of a building in Mala Rohan that Russian soldiers used as a temporary base while occupying the area. Ukrainian forces drove them out; Left: Daniil flips through pages of a military log book detailing activities of a Russian mortar battalion and a mechanized infantry battalion.
Nickolai Hammar / NPR
/
NPR
Left: Capt. Daniil explores the remains of a building in Mala Rohan that Russian soldiers used as a temporary base while occupying the area. Ukrainian forces drove them out; Left: Daniil flips through pages of a military log book detailing activities of a Russian mortar battalion and a mechanized infantry battalion.
A Ukrainian military public affairs officer searches the basement of a warehouse previously used as a temporary barracks and field hospital by occupying Russian soldiers in Mala Rohan, Ukraine.
Nickolai Hammar / NPR
/
NPR
A Ukrainian military public affairs officer searches the basement of a warehouse previously used as a temporary barracks and field hospital by occupying Russian soldiers in Mala Rohan, Ukraine.
The casing of a Ukrainian Grad missile stands upright in the basement of a warehouse previously used as a temporary barracks and field hospital by occupying Russian soldiers in Mala Rohan.
Nickolai Hammar / NPR
/
NPR
The casing of a Ukrainian Grad missile stands upright in the basement of a warehouse previously used as a temporary barracks and field hospital by occupying Russian soldiers in Mala Rohan.

Hanna Palamarenko contributed reporting to this story.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.